Splendid isolation!

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Where I stayed
Yardie Homestead

Flag of Australia  , Western Australia,
Saturday, April 30, 2011

Monday morning we set off on our next adventure, to the north. Although everyone warned us of the distances involved, it is one thing to look at the map and note mileage, it is something else to experience driving for hours seeing nothing but the road and scrub vegetation. There are names on the map, for example Overlander Homestead, which is a few hours drive from the previous stop, so finally you arrive to find a petrol station, then it's back in the camper and the journey continues for another few hours with again nothing but the road and vegetation. We found it necessary to change drivers regularly to overcome the monotony. The first stop out of Perth for a cup of tea, (on our own gas burner of course), was a small place called New Norcia which was established when a monastery was built there. The monks set up an orphanage for Aborigine girls, and then a nunnery was also built. Again this is in the middle of a huge emptiness, but the buildings and small museum are impressive.

We stopped for 2 nights at Dungarra Port Dennison where Jim risked humiliation and took the rod to the jetty. It was great because apart from the chance of catching supper people immediately started to talk and upon learning that we were novices, Jim was given lots of advice and I was given a lesson in gutting herring. We were so pleased Clive had thought to provide the equipment because we had not realised how much fishing is part of the culture in Australia, especially here in WA I think. Everyone seems to fish, men women and children. There are fish cleaning stations in camp sites and by many beaches and all the supermarkets, petrol stations and camps sell bait. It wasn't until we reached Exmouth that Jim caught anything but there we were camped next to a young man and his father. Jake (22 years old), the son, was happy to fish all day long so he took Jim a few evenings in his vehicle which meant that I could stay on site with the camper. Twice Jim caught supper but he has yet to kill a fish. Jake carried out that task and then taught me how to fillet it. So far I think it might be cheaper to buy the fish as Jim gets through the bait quickly, but it is a great way to pass a few hours, meet people and have the anticipation of a delicious free meal even if it doesn't happen too often yet. There are also the stories about the one that got away – yes, one was so big it snapped his line. That would have provided a few suppers. The girls and I have been encouraging Jim to find a hobby for a while and as he is fishing everyday now I think I can honestly say he is hooked (sorry, couldn't resist!).

The next stop travelling north was Caenarvon, which is known for it's production of fruit and vegetables which supply the west coast and Perth. It is so fertile because it has an underground river for irrigation. Unfortunately it suffered badly from floods just before Christmas which damaged much of this year's crops. In our camp site (and throughout the area), which had been under 4 feet of water, there was a plague of frogs. We read the signs apologising for the frogs when we arrived but did not see any all afternoon and I was beginning to feel disappointed, until I went to the lavatory. When I flushed, a frog shot out from under the rim, washed down by the clean water, and then he quickly climbed back up again! I went along flushing all the wcs and there was a frog in each one. (Luckily there were no other people there at the time.) After that it was an emotional experience visiting the lavatory, feeling guilty at every flush for disturbing the frogs, but at the same time reluctant to sit for long! The man who cleaned the shower blocks said it had been dreadful earlier in the year, he had never heard so many women scream as when the frogs were also living in the showers and came down onto the women when they turned the showers on. At least I missed that experience. He didn't mention the men yelling – not sure why? Perhaps they gave up showering. Caenarvon also had a plague of locusts measuring approx 3 inches long with up to a 4 inch wingspan. They really make a thwack when they fly into the van or the back of a canvas chair.

We moved on to Coral Bay, which is adjacent to the Ningaloo Reef, the main reason for coming to this area. The “town” has 2 camp sites, 2 small motels/backpacker places and a handful of shops. But the great bonus is that it is possible to swim straight off the beach to the reef. We saw turtles, sharks, rays and lots of reef fish.

Exmouth, our next stop, is on the Cape peninsular which consists of a finger of land running north/south, about 100 miles long and up to 30 miles wide. The Ningaloo Reef also runs in the same direction just offshore. The whole area is flat desert apart from a low range of hills running parallel to the coast, which in places is not much more than rocky outcrops, and in higher parts has gorges cut into the hills. Because of the heavy rain and floods during the summer here the whole area is much greener than usual with lots of flowering shrubs bursting into bloom.

We are staying at Yardie Homestead. Life here is very different because of the isolation and extreme climate. At present the daytime temperature reaches the mid 30's Celsius and at night it falls to about 20 degrees so it never feels cool. Most days the sun shines from dawn til dusk. We had one day that was overcast with a few drops of rain but the temperature remained high. Drinking water is scarce and must be collected in bottles from special taps at the camp site for personal use. Water for washing is freely available as it comes from bore wells and the showers are warm because the water arrives like that from underground. The down side is that it is quite salty and as one guy accurately described, it leaves you smelling like a skunk! I invested in lavender shower gel to overcome this but I don't think the lavender fragrance is strong enough. During the summer the temperature regularly reaches the high 40s and upwards and it is the cyclone season. Miffy, who runs the office/shop, said you can skinny dip anywhere then as no-one is about. I am not surprised really. But I did wonder why she thought that might tempt me.

The electricity supply is fragile so although we are connected, no appliances such as toasters, air conditioning units (which we don't have) or hair dryers are allowed. When Miffy told me that hair dryers were prohibited I had a minor panic but she reassured me that this is Yardie so no-one cares what they look like. Thankfully we have a gas grill for toast – spoilt really.

We average a couple of bites a day from insects but they are not too much of a problem. I spray inside the van when we go for showers before bed and that seems to clear most of them by the time we return.

The nearest shops are in Exmouth, about 20 miles away. It is a small town about the size of Mayfield. The next town is about 220 miles south.

At this point you might be asking why we are here. Altogether we are staying a little over 3 weeks on the Cape because we love it and 2 weeks at Yardie! Life is so relaxed. We get up with the sun, breakfast and then decide how to spend the day, depending upon tides, sea state and winds. Because of the high temperatures there is often a wind that varies from being a welcome breeze to a very hot fierce blast of air. Whichever version, it doesn't last long. Then we plan our snorkelling, fishing, birdwatching and reading accordingly. We don't walk far, partly because of the temperature and also the lack of roads/trails. I do the housework which takes 5 minutes, folding the bedding, sweeping and washing the floor (4 square feet max) and then we disconnect the electric cable, turn of the LPG, close cupboard doors and we are off. The van is great because everything goes with us so if we feel like a cup of tea after snorkelling, on goes the gas and its made. We don't have to return to site for meals and of course it is easy to change out of wet gear in the van.

At sunset the galahs, corellas and miner birds make a racket as they settle for the night. Birds here don't sing - they yell and squawk, even in the middle of the night sometimes as though one has returned home late and gets into trouble. In the evening it is a joy to sit and look at the stars. The sky is almost always clear and of course there is no light pollution so it is an amazing sight.

We are actually living in a metal box 1.7 metres wide and 4.9 metres long, including the cab. It did take a couple of days to get into a routine, and we hit our heads a few times before adjusting to the size of the van but our worst mistake was leaving the kettle out on the gas burner instead of putting it into the cupboard. When we drove off it fell onto the bed and we didn't notice until bedtime when we discovered the water had drained out of the kettle and soaked the sleeping bags. It's all part of the adventure and we coped, even if it was not our most comfortable night. Normally we get a good night's sleep. The fridge is at floor level and only 2 feet high so I need to kneel to look inside. Jim gives this a miss. It often bursts open when we are travelling so we have to stop and track everything down. The last time it happened 3 cans of beer escaped on to the road.

There is one surfaced road which runs up the east side of the Cape to Exmouth and then across the top and down the west, between the hills and the sea, past Yardie Homestead for another few miles to Yardie Creek. From there only 4 wheel drive vehicles can continue south as the road is unsurfaced and it is necessary to cross the Creek which can't be done at all if the tides are high as during our first week here. Most of the west coast forms the Cape Range National Park and there are lots of tracks from the road giving access to the beach. All the beaches and bays are different, some good for snorkelling, some for fishing, others for swimming.

The Park Visitor Centre is very helpful and provides info about tides and sea conditions as some areas are risky. For example, the best snorkelling area is Turquoise Bay but there is always a strong current parallel to the beach left to right. So to snorkel it is necessary to walk as far as possible down the beach and then do a drift snorkel back to the car park. As you reach the end there is a sand bar and if you don't come into shore quickly enough it is easy to get caught in a rip tide which takes you out to sea through a gap in the reef. The first time I did the drift it was spring tides so the current was very strong. Jim had already gone back to shore when I started in and for a couple of minutes I could make no headway even though I was finning like anything. I had to turn sideways to gain power and reduce drag and then gradually I made headway. It is only a short distance but quite a struggle. But it is worth it, we have seen turtles, various rays and almost always a large shark.

The other reason the Cape is so special is that there are very few people around for the size of the area. Before Easter everyone kept saying it was going to be really busy and all the camp pitches were full. They were, but there are so few of them that the number of people is strictly limited. There are only 2 commercial sites situated by the road and then about 10 Park sites directly on beaches. The Park sites are really basic, usually between 4 – 8 pitches and an earth closet, no water at all. We stayed in a similar one on the way north. It was fine for one night (we need to plug the fridge in to mains every other night) but I found the earth closet daunting. There is a brush and bucket of special chemical next to it. The lid has to be kept closed apart from when in use, and everyone has to use the brush/chemical before and after use. It ensures a healthy compost. I had no problem during daylight but as they have no lights I could not bring myself to lift the lid in the dark. The small torch we have needs constant winding which was a complication too far at that point. Sorry to spend so much time talking about latrines but they start to have a higher profile out here and they always seem to have interesting occupants. Thankfully the commercial camp sites have water and flush mechanisms.

The people here are very friendly and because it tends to be the same people on the road and at the beaches it feels as though we know lots of them as we keep bumping into and chatting to the same ones. On Sunday evening there is a roast dinner available. We sat with 48 other diners in a small “restaurant” and the temperature inside must have been 35 degrees. Although the meal was like school dinners it was an enjoyable evening and the ice cream at the end was very welcome. Miffy is girding her loins with trepidation because as she puts it, “The grey nomads start arriving this week!”. They come here to escape winter further south and stay for 4 or 5 months.

One evening we snorkelled late and drove home as dusk fell. We had not realised how many kangaroos are living on the land as they tend to hibernate during the day. They crossed the road so often that we hardly travelled a hundred metres without stopping to watch, talk to them or take a photograph. It took ages to get back. There is something about their posture and the way they stop and look at us that makes them seem like outcast humans. Somehow it feels rude to ignore them. Jim actually waves to each one. Perhaps its the sun?

We took the boat ride along Yardie Creek one day. It is run by the Rangers and there is usually only one trip per day. We saw rock wallabies and an osprey amongst other things.

We love the van so much we have just booked another one to travel from Alice Springs to Darwin via Uluru. Not sure if that might prove a little too challenging but we will find out and let you know next time. Bye for now

ps Part of the problem with wifi access is that it is limited and when we open up, Windows does automatic downloads and uses most of our allocation!
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